The best literature on the Vietnam War from a male perspective

Charles L. Templeton Author Of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam
By Charles L. Templeton

Who am I?

Charles Templeton has been there and understands the stories of those who served in combat. He understands the wounds that do not heal after fifty years and those warriors, who in their writing, try to provide a sense of understanding and vision to their stories. He served as a Marine helicopter crew chief during the American War in Vietnam. His love of Vietnam literature began in 1967 and continues to this day. After fifty years of researching and writing about the war, he believes there is a literature of the Vietnam War, and enough of it that you can identify the good and the bad. He writes book reviews for the Vietnam Veterans of America. Charles also edits and publishes an avant-garde literary online magazine, eMerge. He and his wife started and published a weekly newspaper in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a few years, The Independent.

I wrote...

Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

By Charles L. Templeton,

Book cover of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

What is my book about?

In a world awash in books on War and in particular the unabated American obsession with Vietnam, Boot has artistically created a mosaic that uniquely combines Heller’s famous portrayal of normal society exposed to the frustrating bureaucratic logic of the military with Remarque’s description of the extreme physical and mental stress brought on by detachment from civilian life by soldiers. Boot challenges the reader to think about whether or not truth exists, whether or not there are such things as right and wrong, and finally, whether the idea of morality is flexible based on the context (in this case, in the American War in Vietnam).

With a plethora of books being written with an underlying theme of trying to justify the American War in Vietnam, many reasons have been given for the failure of the U.S. Some of the causes and significance of that failure are misunderstood interests, cultural arrogance, silly military strategies, ill-informed tactics, and adverse domestic politics, among others. Boot asks us to rethink our reasoning and our experiences during those turbulent times and consider for a moment the moral and spiritual landscape in America at this time and the corruption of the South Vietnamese government to which the U.S. turned a blind eye. It is a wound on the soul of America which will continue to fester if it remains unexamined.

The books I picked & why

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Dog Soldiers

By Robert Stone,

Book cover of Dog Soldiers

Why this book?

This book is set partly in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and partly in the U.S. and revolves around the Vietnam War and drug smuggling. The book deals with the pervasive sense of individual and institutional corruption which Vietnam seemed to embody. A corrupt society with no avenues of redemption, except in the individual’s code of honor, usually invented after the fact. A code that might perhaps save the individual, but not society. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award. The first novel on the Vietnam War to be so honored. The story focuses on Ray Hicks, a sailor on the way home from Vietnam, and John Converse, a hapless war correspondent. If the most bizarre and outrageous behavior seems rational and acceptable to the majority of society, do individuals adjust their abilities and beliefs to determine what is right and wrong, or do they accept they accept the behaviors of the corrupt society in which they find themselves? It is a moral dilemma that Robert Stone has shined a brilliant light on in this epic novel on Vietnam.

The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

By Bảo Ninh,

Book cover of The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

Why this book?

A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book that he had brought back from a trip to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s. It haunts me still when I reflect upon it and burns in my subconscious like the Wille Pete (white phosphorous) our military used to terrorize the Vietnamese. It is the story of Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier. After the war, in 1976, Kien and others are sent to the Central Highlands to collect bodies for reburial. They are sent to The Jungle of Screaming Souls where Kien was the only survivor of his battalion. Kien’s tale reveals hard truths known to every common soldier in every war in history: “What remained was sorrow, the immense sorrow, the sorrow of having survived. The sorrow of war.” The psychological damage to the young men who fought in these wars, are the wounds that never heal. The Sorrow of War won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1994.

The Things They Carried

By Tim O'Brien,

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why this book?

Quite possibly the seminal work on the American War in Vietnam. This was O’Brien’s fifth novel and his third and most insightful on exploring his personal participation in the Vietnam War. On the surface, O’Brien’s novel is a series of vignettes that is each self-contained. But when the twenty-two stories are read together, their synergy abounds, and they produce a combined effect much more significant than any of the stories taken separately. It is a fascinating and powerful read because it does not embellish nor glorify war. It is the common, almost universal, story of young men at war and their shared experiences. A central theme in each of the stories deals with the truth and what it entails. O’Brien may have been writing to exorcise his own demons, but in the process, he has helped countless veterans to deal with their psychological healing.

Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

By Wallace Terry,

Book cover of Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

Why this book?

Fiction or nonfiction? Vietnam War literature presents the reader with a unique set of problems. If a name has been changed, is it fiction or fact? If the accuracy of the details is not absolute, fact or fiction? Tim O’Brien dealt with this problem most sensibly in The Things They Carried, in the chapter entitled, How to Tell a True War Story. The truth of any story is not as important as the story itself. The stories about the American War in Vietnam reveal something about the storytellers, and their thought about that war. Wallace Terry offers a unique and accurate look at the African American experience in Vietnam through twenty interviews collected in Bloods. Terry assembles a wide range of perspectives; he interviewed members from different branches of the military, officers and enlisted, volunteers and draftees, and prisoners of war. As divergent as the stories are, they all share a commonality: being black and in the military of a country that was still dominated by institutional racism. They are important stories for today but will continue to be important far into America’s future.

The Sympathizer: A Novel

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Book cover of The Sympathizer: A Novel

Why this book?

In 1979 I taught history at a high school in Texas and remember picking up Dallas paper and reading about the Ku Klux Klan clashing the Vietnamese refugees in Seadrift, Texas. Today, there are over 80,000 Vietnamese Americans in Houston, Texas. Most of the literature written by the Vietnamese has either been about the war or about Vietnam. In The Sympathizer, Thanh Nguyen draws attention to the plight of the Vietnamese who started arriving in America almost fifty years ago. But Thanh Nguyen’s novel is much deeper than the plight of immigrants arriving in America. It is also about the power of language and the power of stories viewed through different lenses. On page 68 of the Sympathizer (first edition), the narrator discusses the various plights of unsuspecting Vietnamese newly arrived in America and how you are expected to give up your culture and adapt and assimilate in a new environment. The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 along with many other writing awards. The Vietnamese people have always gifted the world with poets and writers, and now, there is a cadre of Vietnamese Americans who share their stories with America and the world.

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